My day in court

November 2, 2011 at 22:29 | Posted in bicycles | 5 Comments
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I finally got to have my day in court for the four helmet tickets I received earlier in the year. It’s taken a long time to get there – the wheels of justice turn slowly – but on Friday the day arrived. It was a bright, sunny day, so I have a lovely time riding over to the court on the Radish, dressed in my best suit.

When I arrived, the police officers who issued the tickets were there, but my expert witnesses were not. One of them would not be arriving until after lunch, and the other was only going to be able to make it if my case was heard between about 1.30pm and 2.30pm. The list of cases to be heard that day was very long, however, and I was number twenty-two, so I was hopeful that it might work out.

Initially cases get mentioned in the morning, and at that preliminary mention I asked the presiding magistrate if it were possible to schedule the case for the afternoon, in order that my witnesses could attend. She told me that it was not possible to do this, and the case would be heard when it was called. So I kept my fingers crossed that the long list of other cases would take up the morning.

And then it was really just a matter of waiting around. At just after eleven I got a text from one of my witnesses that they were on their way, and would be there in forty-five minutes or so. And at that moment, my case was called.

I made my way to the appointed courtroom with trepidation. I was going to have to ask for the hearing to be delayed in order for my witnesses to be there. When I got to the court, it was some time before the magistrate arrived, and he seemed somewhat flustered because he was actually in the middle of another case. However, he just wanted to hear the outline of the matter.

The prosecutor outlined the basics of the case, and I confirmed that the facts were not in dispute, but that I would be using the common law defence of ‘necessity’. The magistrate seemed bemused, and wanted more information, so I outlined the very basics of the way the defence would unfold – essentially that the defence allows for infractions to be excused if certain conditions can be met.

The magistrate stared at me. ‘Well, that’s what you say the law is, but I don’t know that.’

I was a bit taken aback by this. Wasn’t it his job to know what the law is?

He went on, somewhat aggressively. ‘Each of these offences carries a maximum penalty of $2000, and if you pursue this I will be unable to consider any mitigating circumstances. You need to think about changing your plea. You could end up with a very large fine.’ And with that he adjourned for morning tea.

I guess any hopes I had for a reasonable trial kind of evaporated at that point. Apparently the magistrate presiding over the case was not familiar with the legal principle I was using, and had made it pretty clear he thought I was wasting his time, with the clear threat of a large fine hanging there. So much for innocent until proven guilty!

By the time morning tea was over the first of my witnesses had arrived. This made me feel much more confident; at least I had someone on my side! The indefatigable Sue Abbott also came along to support me. However, getting my other witness to be there was starting to look like a long shot. Indeed, I had only secured his services at the last minute when my original witness was unable to make it, and had never even spoken to him on the phone, let alone met him!

The magistrate returned, and continued to deal with the case he has been involved in. I was looking at the clock, and trying to calculate whether there might be a chance to get him there. I took Sue out of the court for a second.

‘Sue; if it looks as if this is going to go on a bit, and there’s a chance we might still be going when he’s available, could you call him and see if he can jump in a cab and get here? It’s going to be tricky for me, as it will all kick off in a few minutes.’

Sue agreed, and then the case started. A load of time was wasted at the start with the prosecution and the magistrate discussing whether there was a provision in law to exempt helmet wearing, and if a medical certificate would be acceptable. Perhaps they were looking for a way to get me off, but it had nothing to do with my defence. There are no such exemptions allowed; I know because I have checked. Interestingly though, the prosecution alleged that the police would not issue a ticket to riders who were able to produce a doctors note saying they were unable to wear a helmet. This certainly isn’t what the law says, so if the police would actually do this I don’t know; at best it would be an unofficial policy.

Then I outlined to the magistrate the basis of my case, and he interrupted several times. He had clearly been off to read up about the defence of necessity as he had his book open in front of him.

‘You are going to have to show compulsion to ride a bicycle,’ he kept enunciating, leaning forward whilst flecks of spittle formed on his lips. ‘I cannot see how you are going to do this. If there was a psychotic person wielding an axe at you and you jumped on the bicycle to get away from him – well, this is the kind of thing the defence of necessity is for.’ (Actually the magistrate brought up a psychotic axe-wielding maniac several times during the case; it seems he is a bit obsessed by them.)

I got very close to retorting that if he shut up for a moment and let me speak then he might find out how it would all fit together, but I refrained. I did say that I would indeed be able to show that, and had expert witnesses there to support the point. And then I suggested that I give my evidence.

So I did, although it was hard to get all my points across because the magistrate kept interrupting me. Eventually I got most of it out, and then I faced questions from the prosecution, including a whole load of bizarre questions about whether I could fit my bike with a device that make a light come on when I went over a certain speed(!). Eventually even the magistrate asked him if these questions were relevant, to which he limply said, ‘no, not really’.

Then it was time to call my first witness. ‘I call Doctor Veronica Harris!”, I said grandly. I have no idea if that is what you are supposed to say, but that’s what they do on TV so I went with it. Dr Harris took the stand, and I got to ask her my questions. She was superb; calm, authoritative and eloquent. It was at that moment that the atmosphere in the court began to change. I sensed the magistrate sit up a bit more, and take some notice. This wasn’t just some guy trying to talk his way out of a helmet fine; as she spoke it I think dawned on the magistrate that my outline of how the defence of necessity applied to the case wasn’t just puffery. Here was an acknowledged expert in her field clearly articulating one of the key points of my defence.

Veronica dealt with some rather trivial questions from the prosecutor (who by now seemed to be well out of his depth), and left the stand. I glanced at the clock. Not even one o’clock. So no chance my other witness was going to be there. I was going to have to try and prove another key point with the help of just a few newspaper cuttings; something that I suddenly realised was going to be impossible.

I caught Sue’s eye, and she grinned, giving me a thumbs up. Could it be? Was he here?

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I put on my best Rumpole voice. ‘I call Professor Chris Rissel.’

The door of the courtroom opened, and in walked the Professor. I only knew what he looked like from his little picture on the University of Sydney web site, but as he walked in it was like a huge choir suddenly started singing the hallelujah chorus. I was gripped by a sudden excitement. He was here! I might actually be able to pull this off!

I managed to shake Chris’s hand as he walked past and onto the witness stand, and then I asked him my questions. It probably ranks as the strangest introduction I have ever made; the first words I spoke to the man was to ask him questions in a court of law.

He too was superb. He outlined his impeccable credentials, including the significant research he has undertaken in the field of health, bicycle use and helmets, and all of a sudden I again felt the magistrate paying even closer attention. The other key point of my defence was clearly supported. The prosecutor, by now looking rather flustered, asked a few questions that Chris swatted away, and then it was time for the summing up.

The prosecutor made a rather weak statement about how what they had heard might be appropriate for a government review of the helmet law, but was not suitable for this court, and then I re-articulated my case, emphasising how the basis for the defence of necessity had been shown. I also emphasised the urgency and immediacy of the matter, as this was something the magistrate seemed quite hung up on, and finished with an impassioned plea. ‘The law puts me in an impossible position; to which the only solution that will not cause harm is for me to not wear a helmet when I ride. These are important matters, and it seems to me exactly the kind of situation the defence of necessity is designed to address.’

The magistrate then said he needed to consider the matter, and called a lunch recess for an hour.

I was pretty keyed up, and whilst I forced down a sandwich the rational part of me knew that I was not going to win. No magistrate is going to risk setting a precedent like this one. However, a part of me was just wondering. Maybe? Maybe? Clearly we had given the magistrate a lot to think about; compared to the last time when the magistrate pretty much told me I was speaking nonsense from the instant I finished.

I was not the only one thinking there was a chance. We went back to the court and whilst we were waiting for the magistrate I asked the prosecutor for his opinion. He was looking worried. “It could set a very dangerous precedent,’ he said.

Then the magistrate came back in and delivered his verdict. He spoke at length, and clearly had spent some time preparing what he was going to say. He reviewed all the evidence presented, and basically accepted all of it as factually correct; he also made some comments about the bicycle helmet law not being ‘helpful’. He had also finally grasped how it was that my case fitted together, as he clearly laid out how my defence worked, with the various interlocking aspects. However, he did not accept that the conditions needed to fulfil the defence of necessity had been met; specifically he felt there was not enough ‘urgency and compulsion’. There was no axe-wielding maniac. And so I was found guilty.

I walked away with a token $50 fine, and a kind of warning that the next time I came to court the fine would be larger. However, I think the case was a success. I was clearly able to demonstrate that this was not just a trivial matter; I forced the magistrate to take me seriously and he had to spend an hour thinking about it, and perhaps struggling a bit to find a hole in my arguments he could use to dismiss the case. It also highlighted the absurdity of the bicycle helmet law to the point where he was prepared to criticise it on the record.

Now I just need to consider whether to appeal…

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My first day in court

May 20, 2011 at 22:45 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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After receiving two tickets for riding without a helmet, I went to court this week to start my challenge to this ridiculous law, and to plead my innocence.

I was hoping to get the matter dealt with on the day, but my hearing was deferred until Friday 27th May. I pleaded ‘Not Guilty’, and on the 27th will attempt to argue that I can be excused from wearing a helmet on the grounds of ‘necessity’; a legal device in NSW that essentially means you do not have to follow a law that puts your life or health at risk.

The whole experience was quite interesting. The courtroom has the presiding chair (normally occupied by the judge or magistrate) at the back on a raised stage, with a lower dais for the court officials. Facing this (on ‘ground level’) is a table, and behind the table are a few rows of chairs. I was one of the first people to get into the courtroom, and sat in the front row of chairs. A swarm of other people rushed in and grabbed the few chairs at the table, with some others taking the chairs next to me.

Finally the court was in session – it was the Registrar’s court, so rather than being where cases are heard it is kind of the sorting room for cases to be sent off to be dealt with elsewhere.

It was quite chaotic. Someone at the table would jump up, and call out ‘I’d like to raise the matter of Joe Bloggs’. The Registrar and prosecution would ferret around a mountain of paperwork to find Joe Bloggs’ papers, and some discussion would ensure about why the case needed to be deferred, or brought forward, or whatever. A decision would be made, and then the next person would leap up.

I soon twigged that all the people swarming to get to the table were lawyers, and it seems the rule was simply to shout loudest, and thus get your case heard. There were some comical moments, including the lawyer with a long list of names whom he called, and then admitted that he had received no instructions from any of his clients, and therefore did not know what to plead, nor if they needed more time. There was also a lady barrister who was unable to get a word in edgeways, as every time she rose to speak some other lawyer would jump in in front of her, as she made despairing faces at her client, including shrugging her shoulders and mouthing ‘how rude!’.

It soon became clear that the order of proceedings had nothing whatsoever to do with the times on the sheet pinned up outside the courtroom, and that if I wanted to get heard I would have to join in the scrum. Accordingly when a lawyer vacated a chair at the table I leapt into it, and then quickly stood up and called out that I wanted to raise the matter of my own case.

My paperwork was found, and I confirmed that I wanted to plead ‘Not Guilty’. The registrar asked if I had any witnesses, and I said I did not, and furthermore would not need the police officers to attend either as I was not going to contest the facts of the case. There was some discussion of this, and then the prosecution agreed that no legal brief would therefore be provided, and I was given a hearing date.

So I go back to court on Friday for the real thing. My chances of winning are very slim – but there is just a chance I could set a NSW legal precedent. Which would be handy as I have another outstanding ticket pinned to the fridge.

The best part of the day, though, was riding to court. It was a beautiful day; sunny but cool and crisp, and I rode all the way in my best suit; sitting upright and stately on the Radish and feeling like a million dollars. (I was secretly hoping to be photographed for Sydney Cycle Chic, but I suspect I’m not good looking enough…)

I rode up to the court and hopped off my bike in front of the police officers standing outside. Without wearing a helmet, obviously.

Stop lines and police lines

May 19, 2018 at 11:42 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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[click pic for video] Every day, I cycle through Sydney Olympic Park. As do many cyclists; it has wide roads, relatively light traffic and bike lanes – although they are the worse-then-useless painted on sort.

Some of the junctions have stop signs. But the roads are wide, the traffic is light, the sightlines are excellent (especially on a bike), so traffic pretty much never stops – just slows and then continues.

I, of course, do this on my bike. Having to come to a complete stop and then pick up speed again is tiring and unnecessary. In many places, it’s perfectly legal to do this, of course. It’s called an ‘Idaho stop’, after the first jurisdiction that introduced this rule for bicycles. And interestingly, research shows that places that have implemented the Idaho stop have lower bicycle accident rates at stop lines than those without.

Bu, of course, not in cycling-hating Sydney. Not only is it technically illegal not to completely stop, the police seemingly have nothing better to do that wait behind the bushes at the side of the road, watching out for errant cyclists.

One of those cyclists was me. And, sure enough, neee-naaa nee-naaa, I was pulled over. And I got a ticket. Now, since the even-more-anti-cycling-than-usual roads minister Duncan Gay, fines for bicycle offenses have been jacked up. The fine for this trivial thing? $330. Seriously.

But to make it worse, when I received the ticket it also had three demerit points on it. Now, you can;’t get demerit points for riding a bicycle. Think about it – it makes no sense to lose your licence for something you don’t need a license to do. The NSW Transport Act makes it quite clear that demerits apply only to motor vehicles. But the cop apparently did the paperwork wrong. So not only are the cops vindictive, they are also incompetent.

I didn’t want to schlep to court, but found I could plead guilty by post but ask for mitigating circumstances. I wrote a rather ranty and incoherent letter to the magistrate, and had the fine reduced to $200. But with costs and ‘victims of crime levy’, the total fine ended up being $367. Oh well. At least the demerits were taken off.

If only the police would spend time on offences that actually cause danger and death. Like riding too close to bicycles. Nope, no chance of that…

TheOtherDimension jersey

May 2, 2018 at 15:35 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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You’d think, as a successful blogger and cycling activiste, I would be showered with freebies and samples of all sorts of things from companies eager to see their products tried and reviewed on these august pages.

Well, you’d be wrong. I’ve never got so much as a pot of chamois cream (or custard creams, for that matter). Now, I realise that, in general, in order to get such goodies you have to have a blog that people actually read. And it probably helps if you’re not a nutter who keeps going off about helmets, and seems to end up in court rather regularly. But still. Come on, people.

Anyway, there other day I did get a genuine freebie, courtesy of my friend Andrew. Unlike me, he is talented, and is one of the owners of the chic design agency ‘TheOtherDimension‘. They design all sorts of things, from logos to widgets. (And I note in a nice synergy they have invented things for Arnott’s. I wonder if they get free custard creams?)

Andrew is a cyclist, and was frustrated that he couldn’t find a cycling jersey that had the commuter features he wanted but which didn’t look like something you’d wear to a night roadworks party. So he brought his considerable design talents to bear, and created one.

He was kind enough to send me one, and I have to say it is terrific. Apparently it has all these clever features (like hi-viz exactly and only where it needs to be for maximum effect, high-tec reflecto fabric stuff and infinitely large back pockets), but I just like it because it’s super comfy and looks great.

I have no idea if you can buy them. If you can, I suggest you do. But if not, ha ha. You see, that’s the kind of exclusive-blogger-lifestyle that I now lead, with my super-exclusive bespoke jersey. Oh yeah.

Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

August 15, 2017 at 10:24 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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I picked up this book at the airport, as a fairly easy read on the plane. Jodi Picoult is of course a very well known and prolific author, although I’d not read any of her books before.

As I expected, this is a well-written, easy to read book that rattles along. The theme it tackles, however, is far from lightweight; it is an examination of racism and racial tensions in contemporary USA. Against the backdrop of racially-charged police shootings, the rise of Trump and issues around immigration and American values, this is both a necessary and brave book.

Necessary, because these issues need airing constantly, and brave, because Jodi Picoult is a privileged, affluent white person – and writing about race is a challenge to do authentically and fairly when you have no lived experience to draw on.

The story revolves around Ruth; a black neo-natal nurse who is on duty when an medical incident occurs to the newborn child of a white supremacist couple. The baby dies, and Ruth is suspended by the hospital, and charged with negligence and murder. She is defended by a public advocate, and over the course of the novel the motivations, lives and prejudices of all the characters are examined. The book ends with a climactic courtroom scene which, whilst gripping, as a rather over-the-top twist right at the end that to me felt very forced.

It’s a novel that certainly illuminates the racial divide in today’s America. Picoult did a lot of research prior to writing this book; she details much of this in an essay that appends the novel. Aware of the sensitivity of the subject, she tries to do the right thing, and also apologises for any missteps she may have made. Racism is an issue that affects all America (and perhaps the whole world), and Picoult makes the point that this is a book to get whites reading about and understanding at least some of the issues – even if her voice is not the most authentic or original. It is notable that the black characters in the novel come across as the least nuanced and most two-dimensional.

I was interested when finishing the book to read the reactions of black reviewers to the novel. For the most part they are generous and understanding – this is not a ‘black novel’, but as a book that adds to the debate and might break through to some readers who would otherwise not consider the issues raised it has been for the most part praised.

I enjoyed this book a lot; it is a rattling good yarn as well as being very thought-provoking.

City cycling without ID

December 6, 2016 at 11:13 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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cyclewaysIt’s Positive Tuesday again. Eagle-eyed readers will note that I’ve exceeded the initial promise to do six good news stories, but I figured that pushing on can’t be a bad thing. Apart from anything else it improves my mood, even if you are getting sick of the relentless positivity.

And there’s two bits of good news this week. The first is that the NSW government has dropped the requirements for bicycle riders to carry ID. This bizarre law was slated to come in in 2017, but now it’s not going to happen. To be honest, I had a suspicion from the beginning that it wasn’t going to eventuate, given the various legal and logistical hurdles any such legislation would need to overcome. It was always about creating another headline to beat-up cyclists, and given that this desired effect was satisfactorily delivered, I guess the rabidly anti-cyclist NSW government figured there wasn’t anything else to gain and quietly dropped the idea. What has been interesting though is all the cycling ‘advocacy’ organisation who previously supported the law now coming out can claiming they never wanted it, and were instrumental in getting it scrapped (take a bow, AGF). With advocates like these, who needs enemies…

And so onto the other bit of good news. I had occasion to ride through the city at peak time last week, something I now rarely have cause to do. And what struck me was how many cyclists there were. Yes, there have been reports that cycling levels have declined slightly (the NSW government are rejoicing at this, given that have also just dropped any targets they might have had for cycling participation). But when you ride in the city, you can’t help but be struck by how many cyclists there are. The best part about this for me was how courteous the motor traffic was. On my normal route to work I am a lone cyclist, and I experience inconsiderate driving often. But it really seems that, in a place where motorists are used to cyclists and accept that they are legitimate road users, they behave better. This cheered me up no end, and reinforced to me the feeling I had after visiting Manly. In NSW we have the most anti-cycling government anywhere in the world. At every turn they find ways to discourage, punish and harass cyclists. And yet cycling is happening in large numbers, with what feels like unstoppable momentum. Duncan Gay won’t kill it. The best he can do is constrain it a bit, but when finally we get a more progressive government, I sense the cork will pop and suddenly there could be a surge in cycling, benefiting everyone who lives and works in Sydney and NSW more generally.

Don’t get discouraged folks. Just keep pushing those pedals. The revolution is coming.

Addressing the Senate Inquiry

March 4, 2016 at 17:17 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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parliamentWell, goodness, hasn’t it taken a long time to get around to writing this. For whatever reason, life seems to have been getting in the way of blogging recently, and whilst I carry around with me umpteen ideas for interesting items (using ‘interesting’ in the loosest terms there), I’ve struggled to actually put fingers to keyboard to make them real.

If you cast your mind back, you will recall I was asked to give evidence to the Senate inquiry into ‘nanny state laws’, following my submission to the same. The date unfortunately fell during the Chillikebab annual holiday, and initially I said I wasn’t available. However, Mrs Chillikebab, being a rather good sort, told me that I should go even if it meant interrupting our holiday. I guess she was worried that if I didn’t go I’d feel forever bitter and twisted that I missed my opportunity to actually do something vaguely useful in the field of cycling advocacy.

So I booked a ticket, and duly left the rest of the Chillikebabs lounging around the pool at our holiday home on the Sunshine Coast and flew to Melbourne for the day.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and when I got to the parliament building and explained I was there to give evidence to the committee they seemed rather nonplussed and didn’t know what to do with me.  Luckily I made contact with a fellow free-cyclist, and he kindly showed me to the committee room.

I was just in time to hear the evidence from the medico-safely lobby. A whole bunch of worthy doctors, professors and road safety experts all intent on ensuring Australia remains one of the very few places on earth where it is illegal to pedal along a cyclepath with the breeze in your hair.

They started predictably enough, with little speeches emphasizing how well helmet laws were working to reduce injury, and how Australia led the world in such safety initiatives, and how many lives were saved every minute of every day due to these wonderful laws.

Then the Senators started to question them. There were just two senators – the maverick David Leyonhjelm (the only elected representative of the tiny Liberal Democrat party), and Mattheew Canavan, from the governing LNP alliance, and a member of the smaller National party.

I have to say, the Senators were superb. They were across all the material, all the science, understood all the shonky arguments put forward by the medico-safety lobby and grilled them very effectively – pulling apart their arguments and reveling the lack of substance in their submissions. It’s rare the medico-safety lobby are ever held to account, as they avoid public debate, and tend to shut down any attempts at dialogue with high-handed appeals to authority. In this forum, however they couldn’t hide, couldn’t bluster, and couldn’t walk away. They had to admit that the evidence for the effectiveness of MHL was ‘mixed and contradictory’, they had to take endless questions on notice because they were not really across the material, they floundered badly on many very basic points and got extremely rattled and aggressive.

It was terrific. I enjoyed every moment of it.

senateThen, after a short break, I was on. I shared my slot with Nic Dow, of the Australian Cyclists Party, a cycling freedom campaigner I have corresponded with online, but never met. Indeed, one of the nice things about going to the inquiry was meeting up with so many people I have either emailed or corresponded with online but never met.

We made our opening addresses; I had some illustrations of motoring helmets that have variously been proposed, and I used them both to highlight some of the contradictions in the medico-safety folks comments, and also to show the inquity of forcing helmets only on cyclists.

Nic was all over the science, and outlined some of the most recent research that directly contradicted the ‘expert’ evidence from the doctors.

Then we had some questions from the committee. I outlined some of my experiences with going to court and so on, and spoke about bicycle hire schemes. Nic spoke more about different types of cycling, noting that a (helmeted) Neurosurgeon out for his high-speed Sunday morning bunch ride was at far higher risk of head injury than an unhelmeted cyclists on an upright bike pootling along a cycleway.

A few points I mentioned that they seemed interested in; one was my proposal to decriminalize helmetless riding by making the penalty $0, but maintaining it as an ‘advisory’ law. Thre was quite a bit of discussion about this; both Nic and I made points about the political nature of the debate – however much we might want to, a full repeal of the whole helmet law is unlikely to happen, so we explored various options for staged withdrawals and compromises.

Finally I spoke about my framework for assessing helmet laws (and similar nanny state legislation), making further points about  the inequity of MHL.

It was sort of fun, although I felt I didn’t really express myself the way I would have liked. It’s a bit hard to do when you are being questioned, rather than following your own agenda. But I’m very glad I did it.

It was also noteworthy that not one of the ‘pro helmet’ lobby stayed to listen to any of the other evidence. They all trooped in prior to their session, and then all trooped out again immediately afterwards. Symptomatic of their closed minds and unwillingness to engage in any debate, I think.

We will see what comes from this inquiry; whilst the final report is not due for a while I think it will be quite critical of MHL. What impact that has, of course, remains to be seem. But perhaps, just perhaps, in ten years or so when MHL are finally banished and we look back at the fight, my small contribution to this small process might just have played some part in that achievement.

_____________

If you want to read the Hansard transcript (yes, I am now in Hansard!), it’s here.

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

August 15, 2015 at 16:19 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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It’s always a pleasure to open a nmcewan children actew book by Ian McEwan. Familiar as an old pair of jeans, yet always fresh and new. From the moment you sink into the luminous prose to the point when you emerge, blinking, from the fine textured world McEwan conjures, you are swept along by the sheer technical mastery of the medium. McEwan is truly a great author, a master of his craft.

And yet, and yet, something niggled with me slightly about this novel. Not that it wasn’t executed with the customary brilliance. Not that the plot wasn’t intriguing and though-provoking, and the characters fully rounded and believable. No, somehow, there was this niggle in my mind that it was somewhat formulaic. A really good novel, yes, but ‘just another Ian McEwan’, rather than some new statement. It sounds almost sacrilegious to say it, but I was strangely reminded of  Dick Francis’ novels – basically all the same story, but made (somewhat) interesting by the illuminating background research into whatever the protagonist happened to be – a photographer, a wine merchant, a computer teacher etc etc.

In ‘The Children Act’, the main character is a family court judge, and the book revolves around both her troubled marriage and her caseload, most particularly Adam, an intense teenager who wishes to refuse lift-saving treatment for religious reasons.

And, à la Francis, we also get quite significant discourses on the processes and ethics of the family court system in England, coupled with expositions on the religious mores of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This is a much, much better novel than an airport thriller. But somehow, for me, the assemblage of raw materials failed to gel into a great book.

Tailgating motorist

July 20, 2015 at 22:32 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Almost a year to the day since this incident, I today experienced another rather unpleasant situation on the roads. I wasn’t hit, but was somewhat spooked. I was riding up Burns Bay Road this morning – traffic was moderate, although had bunched up a bit around me because of a red traffic light half-way up the hill.

video

Then I heard a car behind me start on the horn. Then it got closer and closer. And sounded the horn again. And then got really close, the driver gesticulating for me to move over.

Move over to where, I’m not exactly sure, as there was no way she was going to get past without going into the other lane. More the the point, I wasn’t going to head into the gutter so she could try and squeeze by anyway.

It’s a little hard to judge, but I reckon she was around 50cm off my back wheel at the closest. I could hear the engine right behind me, and honestly thought at one point she was going to clip my back wheel. Which, of course, would not have been pleasant. As in ‘serious injury’ not pleasant.

Once she finally got past (having been behind me for all of twenty seconds – apparently my safety is less important than those 20 seconds of here oh-so-valuable life), she called out through the window:

           ‘Move over. You’re going to get killed!’.

The irony of this statement is, of course, stark. I laughed out loud at this, in part from relief that she was no longer behind me, but also as I thought of what she actually meant:

           ‘I’m a bad driver. I might kill you!’

As the eagle eyed of you will have spotted, I do have footage of this incident. Yes, I have joined the legion of cam-toting cyclists, and not that long after the last incident equipped myself with a rear-facing camera – a Cycliq Fly6. I will do a review of it in due course – I’d meant to do it a while back, but not got around to it.

After reviewing the footage once I got to work, I took myself off to the local police station to report the incident. As I could see it, there were three possible offenses being committed – driving too close to the vehicle in front, incorrect use of the horn and aggressive driving.

I showed the footage to the Constable on duty, and whilst sympathetic and interested, initially he told me there was nothing he could do. I held my ground, and asked to speak to his superior, and after some discussion it was agreed that I could make a report. The key in all of this was agreeing that I was prepared to go to court; once this was established it all became much easier.

Was there a bit of fobbing me off initially? Perhaps, but I have to say once we were over that, the police could not have been more polite and helpful. I made my statement, he took the footage, and promised to call me back with more information.

True to his word, he called me later that day. He had spoken to the motorist, who initially had been dismissive and aggressive, but once was told that there was video footage suddenly became rather more cooperative and contrite.

He had also asked the traffic division to look at the footage, to see what the best course of action would be with regards to charges. Here things were a little less successful. ‘Misuse of the horn’ was virtually impossible to get past a magistrate, in their opinion. Tailgating was a possibility, but the difficulty would be in proving just how close she got. We were travelling fairly slowly, and the prosecution would need to prove that she was so close to me that at those speeds she would have been unable to stop if needed. This they thought was tricky, as establishing exactly how close she was, and how fast I was travelling, was very hard to do from the footage – certainly it was unlikely to be solid enough to convince a magistrate (reasonable doubt and all that). Interestingly he said that had my rear wheel been in the shot, it would have helped tremendously – both to give perspective on the distance, and also to see the wheel rotation to measure speed. So there’s something to bear in mind – angling the camera down to take in the top of the rear wheel and the road behind you is a worth considering if you want the footage to stand up to court scrutiny.

He was looking into predatory driving, but this was usually reserved for more serious offenses where people were actually injured. Again, he felt this would be tricky, as I would have to have felt like I was in mortal danger. Did I feel that? Well, a bit I suppose, but certainly nothing like  I felt in the seconds before I was actually hit last time. He was still looking into this, but felt it was a long shot, and again unlikely to get up before a magistrate.

So all in all, it’s unlikely that this will go any further. But in another way, I got the result I wanted. The driver got a somewhat confronting call from the police, and had to acknowledge her driving was far from perfect. Hopefully she’ll think a little harder next time.

It was also an interesting exercise to understand how the police work on these types of matters. I felt the police were diligent and helpful, and explained to me clearly the problems they foresaw in proving the case in court – which ultimately is what dictates their actions on what, if any, charges to lay. So top marks to Constable Taylor of Chatswood Police station.

That it should be so hard to get any offense proven is I suppose an indictment of the way the system works, but also helps to clarify where the problem lies. Yes, I know some cyclists have had issues with police being uninterested in incidents of dangerous driving, but I suspect it’s actually more about the overall court system – which in turn is a reflection of our societal biases. Ultimately the police want convictions, and if the courts were more sympathetic to cyclists, the police would be putting more cases forward. That will happen as our overall society becomes more accepting of cycling as a legitimate form of transport that deserves protection against poor driving. Which will happen . . . .  eventually. Perhaps?

Anyway, here’s a few top tips if you run a camera and need to report something to the police:

  •  Angle the camera such that your wheel is visible in the shot. Helps to establish distances and speeds. Telemetry from a speed sensor is also great.
  • When you go in to make a statement, be clear that you are prepared to go to court (if course, to do actually need to be prepared to go…!)
  • When you make your statement, ensure you cover how scared / vulnerable / in danger you felt. Don’t ham it up, but don’t play it down.
  • If necessary, be somewhat persistent. But always be polite and respectful.

Cops, cars, jaywalkers, bikes and priorities…

August 30, 2013 at 12:31 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

copcarI was riding home on Wednesday this week when a friendly oncoming cyclist on Pyrmont Bridge warned me that there were police at the end of the bridge pinging helmetless cyclists. I thanked him, and then rode on, keeping a lookout. I was expecting to see the usual bike cops, but saw there was a squad car parked on the junction, with two officers standing on the pavement nearby. I jumped off my bike and walked across the crossing, to avoid a tedious helmet conversation, and once on the other side paused to see what the police were doing.

The first thing I saw was a pedestrian being ticketed for jaywalking.jaywalker

Shortly after that, a car turning right out of Darling Drive went through a red light. The filter light on that lane is only lit for a short time, and it’s frequently not enough time for the queue of cars to get across. So it’s pretty much a dead cert that someone will push through as it turns red.

In this instance, I think probably two or three cars went through as it changed, with the last one evidently being well after it had gone red – indeed, he was so late going through that the pedestrian / bike crossing had gone green and a swarm of pedestrians were already in the road. This meant he got stuck in the middle of the junction – as it happens, slap bang over the bike crossing that links Pyrmont Bridge with the Union St cycleway.

This posed some problems for cyclists; either they had to ride around the rear of the vehicle, uncomfortably close to the oncoming traffic now coming out of Pyrmont Bridge Rd, or go around the front of the car by riding on the pedestrian part of the crossing.

caroncrossing

In the picture above, you can see one cyclist doing exactly that – look for the flash of hi-viz behind the cop’s arm.

The car was stuck in the middle of the junction for quite a while whilst the crossing cleared (in the pic the ped lights have gone to flashing red and the car is still there), with two cops on the pavement, one each side of the crossing, perhaps five metres away from the vehicle.

So what happened next?

Well, the cop in the picture, turning and seeing the cyclist coming around the front of the car, pulled him over, asked to see his ID and gave him a warning about riding over the pedestrian crossing, although he stopped short of issuing a ticket. (Whilst this was happening, a pedestrian came over to where the cop was speaking to the cyclist, and started laying into the officer about how they were harassing cyclists!)

As the crossing cleared, the motorist drove away, with neither cop making any effort to speak to him, pull him over or capture his rego.

After the cyclist had ridden away, I took the opportunity to speak to the officer about his actions. He was very pleasant and courteous, and basically acknowledged that the cyclist was ‘the unlucky one’.

‘There’s things coming from all angles on this crossing, and there’s only two of us, and we can’t stop everyone.’ he said. ‘He was just unlucky this time; it’s just too busy to cover everything.’

I did gently press him about the motorist, pointing out that a car driving over a red light and towards a crowded pedestrian crossing perhaps posed a greater danger than a lone cyclist trying to get around an obstruction, and the cop did agree that, yes, the behaviour of the car driver was more dangerous. He also agreed that he’d seen lots of cars jumping that particular red light.

Internally at this point, I was shouting, ‘so why on earth didn’t you walk the five paces over to the car when it was stuck on the crossing to talk to the driver, instead of pulling over the cyclist?!!’. However, I kept that thought to myself. The cop went on to say he was a cyclist himself, and hated it when car drivers do that kind of stuff, and that poor driving around cyclists really annoys him. Not enough, it seems, to translate into action when he is on duty.

He also said they were positioned there because there had been lots of reports of conflict between cyclist and pedestrians in that area. The reason for that, of course, is due to the phasing of the lights. Cyclists and pedestrians get far too little green time, meaning that a large group of pedestrians builds up for each signal change – and many of them end up spilling into the bike lane simply because the crossing is not wide enough for that number of people.

Approaching cyclists, for their part, knowing that they have perhaps three seconds of green to get onto the crossing before they will be forced to wait another four minutes for the whole cycle to go around tend to speed up when they see the crossing go green.

Speeding cyclists anxious to get onto the crossing and a sea of peds spilling all over the road – hardly surprising that there’s conflict.

The number of pedestrians and cyclists at that junction at peak time far exceeds the number of motorists, of course. And yet the motorists get the vast majority of the green time. Simply putting in another pedestrian green phase in the middle of the cycle would probably solve most of the conflict issues, and save the police time and money having to patrol there. But that might cause a precious motorist to be held up for ten seconds longer – which clearly can’t be allowed, can it?

 

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